album reviews

Magnolia Electric Company
Trials and Errors
Secretly Canadian (2005)

Jason Molina spent his career running from early comparisons to Will Oldham, and not without reason. A 1996 Songs: Ohia 7-inch released on Oldham's Palace Records and a similarity of vocal and songwriting styles made such comparisons easy. Molina has since drifted toward a more collaborative sound, and his new band, Magnolia Electric Co. (a name taken from his final Songs: Ohia album), truly sounds like a collective effort, rather than just a Molina solo project hidden behind the Songs: Ohia moniker.

MEC's first album, Trials and Errors, is a 2003 live recording that expands Molina's songs with booming drums and jangling guitar riffs (and even a few solos). The group stretches 10 tracks into more than an hour's worth of brutal rock; the shortest songs are just shy of six minutes, while the longest builds into an almost 10-minute fury. And when Molina stumbles, as in the meandering "Leave the City," his band swoops to the rescue, with a mournful trumpet grounding the song's otherwise murky melody.

Although Trials and Errors might be more robust than anything by Songs: Ohia, it holds the same songwriter at its core. Molina's lyrics still dwell on the less-than-pleasant (the repeated phrase "almost was good enough" follows stanzas from Neil Young's "Out on the Weekend"), and, even masked behind guitar solos, his melodies still follow the same growing repetitions cultivated in early Ohia records. With this live recording, Molina has broken free from his Songs: Ohia past, allowing him to pursue a new sonic shift that sounds ripe for studio development.

-Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: the Baltimore CityPaper: 9 March 2005
.: Trials and Errors on